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The Rise of the Plus-Size Model

Last year, model Crystal Renn appeared in five major ad campaigns and seven French Vogue spreads, walked two Chanel shows, and worked with top photographers including Steven Klein and Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott. Perfectly normal for a top model, of course, except for one thing: Renn has 38-inch hips, making her roughly a size 8, which is considered plus-size in the fashion world. As recently as a few years ago, her best hope for work would have been catalogue jobs.

But now that may be changing. While Renn has a lot to do with the level of chatter around plus-size models, she’s not the only one getting work. Plus-size models like Alyona Osmanova, Gitte Lill, and Marquita Pring are booking major editorials and ad campaigns and walking top designer shows.

Renn, Osmanova, Lill, and Pring all work for Ford Models, which can take much of the credit for pioneering the plus-size category. In 1998, Ford Models founder Katie Ford hired a new agent, Gary Dakin, to develop a division — called Ford+ — dedicated to plus-size models. At the time, Ford’s plus-size models — meaning women typically a size 10 or 12 — were lumped in with what’s called “straight-size” models — typically around 0 or 2 — and they received little to none of the dedicated attention necessary to make their careers take off. They did catalogue work or, if they were lucky, ads for retailers who sold plus-size clothing, often having to do their own hair and makeup for shoots when clients didn’t want to pay for the plus-size models to have it professionally done. $125 an hour was a high pay scale — now, the top plus-size models can get up to $15,000 a day. Dakin signed young, fresh talent. “It needed to change, and go younger. We started to get response from these girls, and it was fantastic,” he says.

See more from the Fall 2011 Preview:
Slideshow: 65 Designers Reveal Their Fall 2011 Inspirations
The Complete Fall 2011 Fashion Week Calendar
Your Handy Live-Stream Guide to New York Fashion Week
Thirteen Topics the Front Row Will Be Discussing During Fashion Week

The Rise of the Plus-Size Model